Earlier in Exodus we read that Moses would go into to the Tent of Meeting where God would talk to him (Exodus 33:9). By the end of Exodus, though, we read: “Moses could not to enter into the Tent of Meeting because the cloud settled upon it… (Exodus 40:35).”
As Professor Ellis Rivkin pointed out in The Shaping of Jewish History this radical shift represents a takeover of Jewish life by the descendants of Aaron who became a hereditary ruling class and usurped complete control of Jewish life. “Any outsider who encroaches shall be put to death (Numbers 3:10).”
What does this teach us?
We must push the cloud off the tent and see God’s instruction as accessible to us as it was to Moses. We dare not cede ultimate authority to priests ministers, rabbis or Imams. Yes, we should respect and study their teachings. But our own conscience and desire, as God charged Abraham, “To do what is just and right (Genesis 18:19)” should determine our actions.
How often in history have people done atrocious things simply because the ruling authorities told them to. The Nazi era was able to wreak its horrors not just because of evil leaders, but because good people unquestionably obeyed an authority that led them down a horrible path.
God’s greatest gift to humanity is a mind we can use to make considered decisions as to how we will act. When we allow “a cloud” to block us from God’s teaching, we impoverish our spirit. If instead we push the cloud off the tabernacle by studying and earnestly seeking the contemporary message of Biblical teachings we can draw closer to the Divine Image in which we were created and make a better world for our children, grandchildren and future generations.